The names you don't know

By Jason SobelJune 14, 2011, 11:00 am

BETHESDA, Md. – There’s a reason why this week’s major championship isn’t called the U.S. Invitational or the U.S. Classic.

It is the U.S. Open because this is truly an open tournament, inclusion in the field available to any player in the world with a handicap of 1.4 or better.

As fictional competitor Roy McAvoy once so eloquently explained, “Anyone's got a shot at it. You just gotta get past a local and a sectional qualifier, and unlike Doral or Colonial or the AT&T, they can't keep you out. They can't ask you if you're a garbageman or a bean-picker or a driving range pro whose check is signed by a stripper. You qualify, you're in.”

The following are 10 stories of players who qualified for the 111th edition of the U.S. Open and are in the field at Congressional Country Club this week.

Halfway through his 36-hole sectional qualifier in Ball Ground, Ga., Brett Patterson knew where he stood.

The rising sophomore at Middle Tennessee State was in a share of 17th place following his opening-round 2-under 70, with only three spots available for players to advance to the U.S. Open. So he did a little math.

“Before the day, I thought 10 under would get through,” Patterson says. “So I had a number in mind – I wanted to shoot 64 for the second round.”

He didn’t. He shot 62 instead.

The number just happened to be Patterson’s lowest-ever competitive score, beating a 64 in junior golf and 67 in collegiate competition.

“I really didn’t know what was going on, to be honest,” he says. “I just kept trying to hit the shot the best I could. That propelled me to play better than normal. I had to keep pressing and keep making birdies.”

Qualifying for the U.S. Open is the cherry on top of what was a very successful freshman season for the McMinnville, Tenn., native, who earned all-Sun Belt Conference honors and ranked seventh in scoring average at 72.55.

So what will he do for an encore? When it’s suggested that another 62 would put him in the record books with the lowest score in major championship history, Patterson takes it in stride.

“That would be nice,” he says with a laugh. “No big deal, huh?”

Michael Barbosa has heard the comparisons.

How could he not? After all, he played collegiate golf at Georgia Tech, then went to law school and passed the bar while remaining a career amateur.

So, yes. You can certainly call him a modern-day Bobby Jones – or at least the closest thing to him.

“No one has mentioned that one in at least a week,” Barbosa says. “I mean, I laugh when people say that. It’s obviously very complimentary, but I’m not Bobby Jones. If I was, I guess I’d have to start winning majors.”

While his path mirrors that of the legendary amateur star, that wasn’t his motivation.

“I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be Bobby Jones or anything like that,” says Barbosa, who works in financial services in St. Petersburg, Fla. “There’s a little irony there, but it’s very nice when someone suggests that, even self-deprecatingly.”

It’s not that he didn’t have a chance to turn professional, but Barbosa – who is competing in his first career U.S. Open this week -- always just thought he’d be happier as an amateur.

“I had just developed other interests and wanted to do something different,” he explains. “I didn’t want to be the guy who went to Georgia Tech and played on the golf team, then turned pro because that’s what I was supposed to do.”

Sounds just like another Georgia Tech alum.

Ask 16-year-old Beau Hossler about his grades and he’ll modestly claim that they’re “pretty good.” Demand an exact number and he’ll admit that he carries a 4.3 grade-point average.

That’s out of 4.0.

Taking a steady diet of advanced placement classes during his recently concluded sophomore year at Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., Hossler claims it was difficult to balance his classwork with a rigorous golf schedule.

“It was tough to miss all that school,” he explains. “Between the golf team and individual tournaments, I missed a lot of the second semester.”

Of those classes, he likes modern art the most and fared the best in history, but did he really “miss” not being at school?

“Not really,” he admits with a laugh.

While most of the competitors in the U.S. Open field will call this week their most stressful of the year, Hossler already feels a weight lifted from his shoulders, having completed his second year of high school exactly one week before the opening round at Congressional.

He’s only played with one touring professional in the past – Mark O’Meara grew up playing the same course as him – but if given a choice, the teenager would like to tee it up with a certain lefthander named Mickelson this week.

“Phil is my favorite golfer,” he says. “I’d love to meet him or spend some time with him. Even if I just get to talk to him for a few minutes, it would be really cool to get some knowledge from him.”

As for what it’s like to be competing in the same tournament as his golfing hero, Hossler concludes, “I’m just really excited. It hasn’t really sunk in that I’m playing the Open. It’s pretty cool.”

Like many of the professionals in this week’s field, Brian Locke owns the course record at his home club. Unlike the others, that record happens to be a 55.

No, Locke didn’t fire a double-nickel at a place nearly as treacherous as Congressional – or most other courses, for that matter. Born and raised near the Los Angeles airport, he grew up playing Westchester Golf Club, a par-64 executive course that plays to a whopping 4,364 yards from the tips.

A two-time West Coast Conference player of the year in college, Locke turned pro in 2009 and so far owns a resume much like so many others – competing on mini-tours, taking a part-time caddying gig and generally trying to earn enough money to keep his career afloat.

He’s in the field based on a pair of timely birdies at the Glendale, Calif., sectional playoff. After holing a 25-footer on the first extra hole only to see it matched by a fellow competitor, Locke drained a 10-foot putt on the next hole to advance.

Now he’ll be reunited against players he competed with in junior golf, such as Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim and Rickie Fowler.

“I can hold my ground against them,” he maintains. “I’m just as long, but it is a different game out on the PGA Tour, so it’ll be interesting to see, but I feel like I can compete with the best.”

Chris DeForest had a pretty nice first day as a professional golfer.

After turning pro on the morning of the St. Charles, Ill., sectional qualifier, he reached a playoff to advance to the U.S. Open. After one competitor got through on the first extra hole, there was just one spot still up for grabs between DeForest and another player.

As a big hitter, the recent University of Illinois graduate knew he had a little advantage on the downhill, downwind 535-yard par-5. He was right.

DeForest lashed a drive that left him 113 yards into the green with his second shot. He knocked a lob wedge to 2 feet and made eagle to advance. Do the math and that’s a pretty solid 422-yard poke off the tee.

“But someone said it was only 415,” he says in all seriousness. “Must have got a little hop on that drive.”

As a result, DeForest is taking part in his first U.S. Open this week, but he’s not the first in his family to receive that honor. His father, John, played on the PGA and European tours and competed in the 1984 edition of the event at Winged Foot.

If Chris needs advice, he won’t need to look far. John is on the bag in what will be his professional debut.

“My dream is to play pro golf,” DeForest says. “I’m very fortunate to have my first pro tournament be the U.S. Open.”

Heading into his first U.S. Open start, Ryan Nelson is really driving it well.

No, not his golf ball. His car.

After advancing to the field through sectional qualifying, Nelson prepped for the major by packing up his wife and young son, moving the family from their home in Houston to Charleston, S.C. That included a drive of nine hours one day and eight hours the next just days before heading to Congressional.

“Not exactly the preparation I wanted,” he says with a laugh.

Nelson is accustomed to it, though. Currently playing the eGolf Professional Tour based in Charlotte, he’s been making the 15-17 hour drive back to Houston pretty frequently.

“Every couple of weeks,” he says, “so I guess my body is used to it.”

As for the move, well, that was in the works long before he qualified for the Open and still went ahead as planned – even if the timing wasn’t optimal.

“Just what I dreamed of,” he says sarcastically. “We hired a little bit of help. The new place is three floors and I didn’t want to be carrying everything to the top floor. Tried to avoid all the heavy stuff.”

Now comes the real heavy lifting, as he’ll make the jump from mini-tour player to major championship competitor. If it all feels a little different, there’s good reason for that.

He didn’t drive here. He flew.

Take one look at Michael Tobiason, Jr., and you would never believe the other sport he played in college.

And even if you did guess basketball, you’d never pick the position.

That’s because he was a center/power forward for Division-II Goldey-Beacom College in his hometown of Wilmington, Del. – at just 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds.

“It was a great experience,” says Tobiason, who started as a sophomore and was top 10 in his conference in rebounding. “It was nice because it didn’t conflict with golf. I’m 6-3, 200 and I could jump, but I got beat up playing guys who are 6-6, 6-7 and 220 or 230. It was a great character builder, though.”

Speaking of character builders, the two-time collegiate All-American in golf used another one to qualify for the U.S. Open. He always maintained he would never attend a PGA Tour-sanctioned event until he was playing in one. This week that goal becomes a reality, even if it's USGA run.

Tobiason posted scores of 69-66 to qualify from the Rockville, Md., sectional. Making things even sweeter is the fact that the current teaching pro and mini-tour competitor will play his first big-time event just two hours away from home.

“The reason it’s so special to me is I don’t have the money to play in a lot of events and do a lot of traveling, but this is in my budget,” he says. “This is all me. I’m paying for everything, don’t have a sponsor. I’m trying to save every penny in a way. … It’s nice that it’s close to home and a lot of familiar faces can make it.”

The phone rings and Matt Edwards answers, only to excuse himself for a few seconds. He’s on the golf course, after all, and facing a difficult 170-yard shot into the green.

So he puts the call on hold, hits the approach shot, then returns with a hint of laughter in his voice.

“I hit it over the green,” he says. “Took a little 6-iron and hit it about 190. Hit it too good.”

Such lack of success is noteworthy for Edwards, who has won four of seven starts on the National Pro Golf Tour this season, albeit against fields of only about 15 other competitors.

The former New Mexico State and UNLV collegian is perhaps the unlikeliest player in this week’s field. That’s because coming out of local qualifying he was still an alternate for the Glendale, Calif., sectional.

“I really wasn’t expecting to get a call or anything,” Edwards says. “From the stories I’ve heard, it’s tough to get a call unless someone backs out.”

Not only did someone back out and pave the way for Edwards, but he earned co-medalist honors with a 67-70 to reach the U.S. Open field.

Needless to say, this one is a little bigger than the small mini-tour fields to which he’s accustomed.

“The first tee shot will just be a pinch-me moment,” he contends. “You watch on TV and everyone always claps for that. I think I’ll be pretty nervous.”

Michael Smith can summarize his short-term professional goals in one small sentence: “Just trying to get through Q-School.”

A mini-tour regular since 2008, Smith has competed in the qualifying tournament after each of those seasons, advancing to the second stage the past two years.

“That’s one thing that tough about mini-tour golf,” he says. “You’re out here all year and there really is no reward. You could win every event and not make it through first stage of Q-School and you’re right back where you started from again.”

Smith posted a 64 in his second round of the sectional qualifier in Dallas, but he said the pressure of trying to advance to the U.S. Open doesn’t live up to that of Q-School.

“It actually is similar, but I think Q-School is worse,” he explains. “It’s more pressure. Second stage for a guy like me is a life-changing event. If you get to finals, at least you can get some status on the PGA or Nationwide Tour.”

A native of Lafayette, La., and graduate of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Smith may take some confidence from making it through U.S. Open qualifying and apply it toward Q-School later this year.

“I guess it could help me,” he says. “The last two years I’ve had to shoot 3 or 4 under on the last day and haven’t been able to do it. It felt good for sectionals. I knew I had to go out and shoot a low score and I did it. That always feels good.”

Back in college, Elliot Gealy played on a Clemson team that included Lucas Glover and Jonathan Byrd. While they’ve seen success at the game’s highest level, their teammate has struggled just to stay in the game.

It’s been a whirlwind journey for Gealy, who played the mini-tours for years upon graduation, winning five times on the Hooters Tour and topping the money list in 2004. Two years later, he played the Nationwide Tour, but missed the cut in all 13 starts. He made it back the next season, only to finish in the money five times in 27 appearances.

After another year on the mini-tours, he went to work as the head instructor for the Mike Bender Elite Academy in Incheon, South Korea, for nine months, then upon his return worked stateside for Bender in a similar capacity.

“It was more financially stable, I was teaching, it was a resume builder,” Gealy says of the experience. “I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play again. After nine years, I was still single. I didn’t want to meet someone and start a family while on the road.”

Ready to shelve his playing career for good, last year some friends in the Internet web marketing business offered Gealy sponsorship money. So once again he started playing the mini-tours, then competed in PGA Tour Q-School, where he missed earning his card by five strokes, but received full status on the Nationwide circuit again.

Though he’s played in “tons of qualifiers,” the U.S. Open will be Gealy’s first career start in the big leagues. After such a circuitous route to get here, even he’s surprised. As he says, if someone would have suggested just two years ago that he’d be teeing it up at Congressional, “I would have said they were crazy.”

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'It's been fun': Tiger embracing this year's moral victory

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 3:52 pm

ATLANTA – The aura of Tiger Woods has always demanded that his accomplishments, or failures, be graded on a unique scale. When your only competition is a record book and a guy named Jack, normal benchmarks just won’t cut it.

When you’ve won 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour titles, there’s no such thing as a moral victory.

Well, there didn’t used to be. But this is different.

It was a year ago next week that Woods first offered an unfiltered glimpse into the state of his body and his game following fusion surgery on his lower back in April 2017.

“The pain's gone, but I don't know what my golfing body is going to be like, because I haven't hit a golf shot yet,” he said at last September’s Presidents Cup. “So that's going to take time to figure that out and figure out what my capabilities are going forward, and there's no rush.”

As timelines go, it’s telling that it was shortly after those matches in New Jersey that Woods reached out to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to ask about the possibility of being the captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2019. With Tiger, it’s always about reading between the lines, but it’s a relatively straightforward message that less than a year ago he was contemplating life as a captain, not necessarily a player.

Tiger has spoken often this year about the uncertainty he felt entering this season, about the unknowns that awaited him during this most recent comeback. He’s even suggested that for the first time in his career, he began a season with dramatically tempered expectations.

Yhat outlook began to change, albeit slowly at first, following a pedestrian West Coast swing that included a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

“The beginning of the year was such an unknown, I didn't know if I would be able to make it to Florida and to play the Florida Swing. Let's just start out at Torrey and see how it goes,” Woods explained on Wednesday at the Tour Championship.

He not only remained upright throughout the spring, but he also showed flashes of his former self with a runner-up showing at the Valspar Championship.

Unlike Justin Thomas, who studiously thumbs a lengthy list of goals into his cell phone each season, Woods keeps his vision board largely to himself. Nonetheless, there have been milestones throughout the season that have checked the right boxes.

For starters, Tiger will finish this season with 19 starts, the most he’s played since 2012. In fact, just once since 2000 has he played more than 19, which is as good a sign as any that his health, if not his game, is up to the task.

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His performance on the course has also steadily progressed. Although he’s not won since 2013, and that will always be the standard by which he’s judged, his world ranking tracks quite steeply in one direction. When he finished 15th at the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial, limited-field event in December, he was 650th in the world. Before the season’s first major, he cracked the top 100. Last month, his runner-up showing at the PGA Championship moved him back into the top 30.

That progression paved the way for a return to the World Golf Championship at Firestone and this week’s Tour Championship.

“Just to have that opportunity to be able to add a tournament, I thought I was going to be taking tournaments away, but to have added a couple and to have earned my way into Akron, I look at this year more as I've exceeded a lot of my expectations and goals because so much of it was an unknown,” he said.

This week’s start at East Lake is particularly rewarding considering it’s been five year’s since he played the finale. To Tiger, the Tour Championship is a straightforward meritocracy.

“What I've missed most about playing this event is that in order to get into this event, I would have earned my way being part of the top 30 most consistent players of the year and the best players of the year,” he said. “No exemptions into this event. Either you get here or you don't. It's a very hard line.”

There’s still plenty of work to do. On Wednesday, he talked of getting all of the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place at the same time, something that’s been an issue even during his best weeks.

The scale is always going to be wildly tilted when it comes to Tiger and for many that’s not going to change. It’s the price he must pay for unparalleled success. But for Woods and those around him, it’s impossible and frankly unfair to grade this season based entirely on wins and loses.

In sports, you are what your record says you are. Maybe when Woods calls it a career, 2018 will be nothing more than a bridge to bigger and better things. But as Tiger took mental inventory of his 22nd full season on Tour on Wednesday, the smile that spread across his face went well beyond the standings and statistics – “It’s been fun,” he beamed.

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Stanford suddenly a potential Solheim captain

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2018, 3:06 pm

Angela Stanford’s first major championship brought more than a large trophy, a large paycheck and an extra-large jolt of confidence going forward.

It bolstered her hopes for a larger Solheim Cup future.

Stanford, 40, wondered if her Solheim Cup days were over when she failed to make the American team going to Iowa last year, but Sunday’s victory at the Evian Championship vaults her into the picture to make the team going to Scotland next year.

More than that, it bolsters her burning ambition to one day lead the U.S. Solheim Cup team as its captain.

“When you’ve played in some Solheim Cups and you miss one, it hurts,” Stanford told “They’re very special.

“Hopefully, next year, I’m playing well enough to help the team win. I would like to play in another one, and, yes, I would like to be a captain someday.”

It was fitting Evian officials wrapped Stanford in the American flag during the trophy presentation Sunday in France. She loves team golf and playing for her country, but before winning there she wondered about more than her prospects for making another U.S. team.

She wondered about her qualifications to be captain.

“I always heard winning a major was one of the requirements,” said Stanford, a six-time LPGA winner “I don’t know if that’s true or not.”

While it’s not a requirement, LPGA officials acknowledge it’s a consideration.

There have been 11 different American captains in Solheim Cup history, and Rosie Jones is the only one who didn’t have a major on her resume, though she did have 13 LPGA titles.

So Stanford’s victory Sunday in France opens a door. She needed it because her Solheim Cup record isn’t the most stellar. She’s 4-13-3 in the matches, but the record almost doesn’t matter now with her major. Plus, Stanford created a Solheim Cup memory that trumps her playing record. She prevailed in one of the most monumental singles matches in Solheim Cup history. She took down Suzann Pettersen in the historic American comeback in Germany three years ago. That’s the year Pettersen, the undisputed European leader, was embroiled in controversy over American Alison Lee’s mistake scooping up a putt that wasn’t conceded. Pettersen was the heart and soul of the European team that appeared to be rolling toward a third consecutive team title that year.

Stanford beat Pettersen 2-and-1 during the epic American comeback.

“That really changed how I felt about how I performed on the Solheim stage,” Stanford said. “I was really hoping to make last year’s team, to ride that momentum. Hopefully, I will get another chance.”

Stanford has the memory of her role in that comeback to draw upon forever. She arrived on the first tee to play Pettersen with the same attitude she took to Evian on Sunday. Her record didn’t matter; she was going to fight to the end.

“I came out that morning in Germany with the attitude that, 'I’m sick of losing. I’m sick of being pushed around. I’m sick of coming up on the short end,'” Stanford said. “I showed up with the attitude, 'This isn’t going to happen to me again. I’m not going to be the reason we don’t pull this off.’

“I didn’t like what happened to Alison, and I really wanted to help the team.”

Juli Inkster will captain the American team for an unprecedented third time in Scotland next year. When Inkster’s reign ends, Stanford’s name will move up the short list of future candidates.

It’s a list that should include Dottie Pepper, Pat Hurst and Sherri Steinhauer, though Pepper’s history with today’s players and her heavy criticism of the Americans in the past makes her future selection highly doubtful, if she even wanted the job.

After that, the most relevant choices are Cristie Kerr and now Stanford. Like Stanford, Kerr is 40 and still very much focused on playing.

“I probably have one of the rougher Solheim Cup records in history, but personally I never looked at it like that,” Stanford said. “I look at our team record. I’ve been on three winning teams and three losing teams. I want to make it on another team and make that a winning record.”

Stanford’s confidence after winning Evian and her desire to win another Solheim Cup should make for potent fuel to drive her over the next year.

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Tiger: Back was an issue in 2012 Ryder loss at Medinah

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 2:39 pm

ATLANTA – On Tuesday at East Lake, Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round with Bryson DeChambeau, adding to the notion that the two could end up partnering at next week’s Ryder Cup.

Of course, he also played with Tony Finau. And - let’s face it - there are no shortage of potential teammates for Woods in the U.S. team room.

But DeChambeau does seem to have his interest.

“I've gotten to know Bryson very well, and what an amazing talent, and an unbelievable hard worker,” Woods said. “He has figured out a way to play this game his own way, and he's very efficient at what he does, and he's not afraid to think outside the box on how he can become better.”

After missing the last two matches because of injury, finding the right partner is a good problem to have.

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Being one of Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks is particularly rewarding for Woods, who endured one of his toughest losses in the matches in his last start in 2012, when the U.S. team took a four-point lead into Sunday singles but lost, 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.

The ’12 matches were where Woods' back prompted him to request a late tee time Sunday, rendering his anchor match with Francesco Molinari ultimately irrelevant once Europe retained at least a share of the cup. Woods eventually conceded the 18th hole to Molinari, ending their match in a halve and allowing Europe to win outright. 

“I wasn't feeling physically well at that Ryder Cup, and it's where my back started bugging me,” Woods said. “That's the only wave I've ever missed was [that] Saturday afternoon wave, because I told [U.S. captain Davis Love III] I just really couldn't go. And I said, 'Can you put me out later on Sunday? Because I need the time to get my back organized here.'

“It was tough watching them celebrate in the 18th fairway when I thought we should have won that one."

Woods actually missed the morning foursomes session on Day 2 in at Medinah. It marked the first time in his Ryder Cup career he didn’t play all four team sessions. He finished with a 0-3-1 record for the week.

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Stenson fires back at Mickelson on gun range

By Will GraySeptember 19, 2018, 1:24 pm

The first shots of the Ryder Cup may be ringing off a target at a gun range near you.

After Phil Mickelson tweeted his long-range sniper shot, extolling the virtues of focus and measured breathing as he prepares to take on Le Golf National next week, one of Europe's top players picked up a weapon to return fire.

Henrik Stenson was added as a captain's pick earlier this month, and he'll make his fifth Ryder Cup appearance in France. But before heading across the Atlantic he had some fun on Twitter, grabbing a gun and tweeting a video back to Mickelson while taking aim at a target 50 yards away:

Ever the Twitter savant, Mickelson saw the message and came back with a reply of his own, noting that he couldn't hear Stenson's shot hit the target like Mickelson's did from much longer range in the original video:

This is your reminder that the first (golf) shots of the Ryder Cup will be struck in just nine days.